Work is expected to commence as soon as next autumn on a state-of-the-art new building for St Mary’s Secondary School in Ballina. Planning permission was recently granted for the long-proposed development and it is hoped that the project will go to tender imminently to facilitate the commencement of construction on what will be an estimated 18-month build in the final quarter of 2018. The progression of the new 650 pupil school building is a real coup for Ballina which, on completion of the project, will probably boast the first example of a new model of school in Ireland. Designed by the BDP Architecture and Engineering Team to meet the demands of new modes of learning, St Mary’s new building will comply with the updated, re-configured and improved Department of Education and Science guidelines and requirements with regard to classroom layout and accommodation.
The result will be enhanced flexibility and innovation in the use of space, facilitating better teaching through improved proximity, communication and sightlines between student and teacher with optimum daylight and ventilation. School principal Mr Robert O’Reilly remarked: “This simple and innovative school design will create an energetic and welcoming environment that facilitates the demands of new modes of learning together with intellectual, creative, physical and social interaction as well as collaboration and active learning.” It is 30 years since any new facilities other than prefabricated classrooms have been developed at St Mary’s Secondary School. Although the new school was actually sanctioned in 2006 it took many years of negotiations to secure the appropriate lands and access to them. Mr. O’Reilly said the school and its board of management will forever be indebted to their predecessors and to the Sisters of Mercy, the Diocese of Killala and local landowners for their co-operation in this respect. The sensitively designed new development will be constructed on a 5.6 ha greenfield site at Convent Hill immediately north of the existing school building and convent. The new school will boast a sheltered courtyard design, boasting spectacular views of the Ox Mountains.
Its 25 general classrooms will be organised over two levels in an L-shaped block with shared spaces of general purpose and multi-use halls and sports facilities on the ground level, wrapping around the courtyard on three sides.
Additional specialist facilities will include a music room, a multimedia room, textiles room, design and communications graphics/tech graphics rooms, four science labs with two preparation areas, two art and craft rooms, two home economics rooms, a construction studies/engineering/technology room, a technology preparation room and a library. Space for recreational and sports will be provided for within the school site to help to support an effective learning and development environment – something which the current school is lacking in.
Together with the aforementioned central courtyard at the heart of the school further recreational amenities on the new campus will include four hard play courts and a football pitch. The landscape proposal for the site also accommodates an external performance space and nature walk towards the east of the site. It is also proposed to utilise the grounds as an educational resource where students can participate in ecology based activities that can feed into the curriculum.
“We have sought to extend learning beyond the classroom and into the landscape through our landscaping design strategy,” Mr O’Reilly explained. The educational dimension to the landscape design works in parallel with the functional and amenity dimensions to deliver a positive contribution as part of a holistic approach to the overall design of the school. In addition, the incorporation of photovoltaic panels along the covered walkway will power the new school meaning it will comply with the Nearly Zero Energy Building standards.
Overall the imminent development will place St Mary’s SS in excellent stead to continue a tradition of excellence in the holistic education of its young students that was first established 166 years ago when the Sisters of Mercy first came to Ballina. Today that tradition continues to be reflected in the wonderful and varied achievements of graduates from St. Mary’s including those of the Leaving Certificate class of 2016/2017 which placed St Mary’s as the joint top feeder school to third level institutions in Co Mayo.
Pictorial aerial view of the new school from the East side
Pictorial aerial view of the new school from the West side